ashland.news
June 13, 2024

Griot Night: Sharing life’s lived experiences

Joyesha Hudgins introduces Griot Night, Feb. 21. Screen capture from video by Art Van Kraft
February 26, 2024

Black community members use their words to share their hearts

By Art Van Kraft for Ashland.news

The power and magic of the spoken word came alive as a cross section of Ashland’s Black community took to the stage to tell vivid personal stories of their lives and experiences that were both hopeful and harrowing.

Joyesha Hudgins speaks at Griot Night, Feb. 21. Screen capture from video by Art Van Kraft

The 10 impromptu speakers, from grade school students to university professors, were videotaped before a live audience of two dozen during Griot Night: Intergenerational Storytelling evening at the SOU Digital Media Center Wednesday, Feb. 21, sponsored by the Black Student Union at Southern Oregon University.

Joyesha Hudgins, a student at SOU, introduce the evening’s storytelling and shared her experience, emphasizing that listening to the experiences of another makes healing possible.

“We are here to celebrate intergenerational storytelling during Black History Month,”  Hudgins said, saying her experience as a Black, mixed-race woman needed to be told. She shared an abecedarian poem she had written:

“B is for blackness and celebrating the whole month of February and every day after that. We must praise our color, history ,culture and beauty every second we can for the people who are told to be ashamed of who they are and where they come from. That were told blackness was a weakness, an inferiority and an abnormality, when it is in fact beauty, power and strength.

“L is for love and expressing it every time I see myself in the mirror, for all of the times I didn’t love myself because of the ways people touched my hair and called it exotic. For the way the police officers treated my dad when he didn’t fasten his seat belt and got his car impounded. For all the times I was asked if I was adopted, standing next to my white, beautiful mom and for all the years I wanted to be a Barbie, white, straight blonde hair and skinny. 

“A is for Africa and the African people, where the word griot comes from in storytelling and why we are here today. 

Afua Banful speaks at Griot Night, Feb. 21. Screen capture from video by Art Van Kraft

“C is for cuisine for Creole, crayfish etouffee. 

“K is for Kwanzaa — if you didn’t know, it’s an African American holiday, celebrate our African ancestry.”

Hudgins also addressed Black hair and how it’s sometimes greeted with shame. 

“The great beautiful magical hair all Black people possess. From afro’s, locks, braids, fades, twists, Mohawk’s — our hair holds treasures and beauty, something I used to hide with straight hair, but now embrace,” Hudgins said. 

Afua Banful is a freshman at SOU majoring in Theatre Arts. She was originally from Boston and moved to Ashland in elementary school. She said the experience she had as a student was shaming. 

“Coming from Massachusetts all the way to Ashland has really changed my perspective on the way I viewed myself in regards to other people. From the time I came here I was unaware of how people looked down on individuals of a darker skin and I was unsure about all the biases surrounding race,” Banful said. 

“I remember this classmate in elementary school saying, ‘I don’t want to talk to you because you’re black.’ I said, ‘I don’t understand, I’m just like all of you, I’m just a girl and I’m not doing anything wrong,'” she added.

Banful brought the experience home to her siblings, who told her they had always experienced racism is school, both in Ashland and back in Boston.

“How did I not know about all this racial discrimination, how was I so blinded before? It broke my heart but I couldn’t blame them because it was about the environment they grew up in, it’s what they knew. I couldn’t defend myself then, but I wish that those people back then can now learn from that, from today’s society that say things like this are not OK to do.” 

Marceline speaks at Griot Night, Feb. 21. Screen capture from video by Art Van Kraft

Banful said her situation desperately needed a solution. 

“I had to build my self-confidence up by myself. It was hard, but I pulled up my boot straps and say ‘no.’ To finally speak back and let my voice go. To finally confront the girl who had bullied me all through school and say ‘no.’ I’m so glad at who I am today from the experiences I’ve been through. It shows how powerful I am and I can show others,” Banful said.   

Marceline, who only uses one name, will enter SOU in the fall. He/him identifies as a transgender man. He/him read a poem to the audience that described his unique experience. 

“Why can’t I be what I want in the boundaries stretched so thin, so fragile and so contradicting, so excruciating to explain to an alien race, like describing color to the blind. Why can’t I be that? How dare I be that? How dare my atoms come together and forms that mirror the faces of my grandparents, my parents, my siblings,” Marceline said. 

“How dare I see to live another day, that the earth doesn’t swallow me up, that the earth doesn’t strike me down. I’m living and I’m living and you say that is wrong, you say I’m writing. Scrap the peace, erase the line in history and yet I’m living. After this I sit down, I go home, I kiss my cat, I lay in bed and I’m living,” he added.

Art Van Kraft is an artist living in Ashland and a former broadcast journalist and news director of a Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate. Email him at artukraft@msn.com.

Picture of Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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